On Stage Extra: ‘Waitress’ serves it up at Academy of Music

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 


Pie was celebrated in the middle of March with “π Day (Pi Day)” on March 14.

Pie will also be celebrated in Philadelphia this week when the Kimmel Cultural Campus presents the popular musical “Waitress” at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) from March 29-April 3.

Never underestimate the power of pie – especially fresh-baked cherry pie. Just ask Agent Dale Cooper from the original “Twin Peaks” series.

Pies play a role in the hit musical “Waitress,” which was nominated for four Tony Award and six Drama Desk Awards in 2016. The show’s Christopher Fitzgerald won the Drama Desk Award that year for “Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical.”

“Waitress” is a musical with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson. The musical is based on the 2007 film of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly who was murdered three months prior to the premiere.

In November 2006, Shelly was found dead in her Greenwich Village work studio apartment. Police arrested a construction worker who confessed to killing Shelly and making it look as if she had committed suicide.

The musical “Waitress” is nowhere nearly as grim as the story of its author. It tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress in an unhappy marriage to her husband Earl. When Jenna unexpectedly becomes pregnant, she begins an affair with her gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter. Looking for ways out she sees a pie contest and its grand prize as her chance.

The original production of “Waitress” premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 2015, with direction by Diane Paulus and choreography by Chase Brock. It starred Jessie Mueller, Drew Gehling and Joe Tippett as Jenna, Jim and Earl, respectively. It made its Broadway debut at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April 2016. A U.S. national tour began on October 20, 2017.

Brought to life by a groundbreaking all-female creative team, this irresistible new hit features original music and lyrics by five-time Grammy® nominee Sara Bareilles (“Brave,” “Love Song”), a book by acclaimed screenwriter Jessie Nelson (“I Am Sam”) and direction by Tony Award® winner Diane Paulus (“Pippin,’ “Finding Neverland”).

Jenna, an unhappy waitress and expert pie maker, is stuck in a small town and loveless marriage. She is also faced with an unexpected pregnancy that may end her dreams of opening up her own pie shop. As fate would have it, she enters a baking contest in a nearby county and meets a handsome new doctor. With the help of a quirky crew of fellow waitresses and loyal customers, Jenna makes use of a secret ingredient she’s been missing all along and that’s courage.

Jisel Soleil Ayon will don an apron and bake across the country as Jenna in the national tour of “Waitress,” while Gabriella Marzetta plays Dawn and Brian Lundy plays Ogie.

Dawn is a friendly waitress but is also very shy. After a while, she tries an online dating service where she gets introduced to Ogie. They start dating and eventually get married.

“I saw one of the first previews of ‘Waitress’ on Broadway in 2016,” said Marzetta, during a recent phone interview. “I thought Dawn was my dream role. I also liked the show because I grew up listening to Sara Bareilles.

“I definitely identify with Dawn – her quirks and her shyness. We’re alike in a lot of ways. She is a very relatable character – especially for people my age.”

Marzetta was very shy as a child and spent most of her elementary school and middle school days holed up in her house teaching

herself songs on the piano and guitar and creating intricate stories on The Sims or playing Barbies.

The first time she stepped into the spotlight was when she first sang in front of a crowd at age 10. It started with her father persuading her into auditioning for the school talent show by buying her the Daphne (Ala Scooby Doo) Barbie Doll.

“My dad bought me that Barbie and that’s what started it all,” said Marzetta. “I went to a performing arts high school (The Chicago Academy for the Arts) and then studied music theater in college.

“I attended The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University as a BFA in Musical Theatre before transferring to CAP21 in New York. I made that move because I knew I needed to be in New York.”

Marzetta graduated from CAP21 in 2016 and started her first nation tour with “Waitress” in 2019. COVID-19 shut down the tour in early 2020 in Wisconsin. Now, it has come back to life.

“We opened on October 5 in Bloomington, Indiana,” said Marzetta. “We’ll be out with this tour until June 12, 2022.”

Video link for “Waitress” — https://youtu.be/zNyhdPrD3A4.

“Waitress” will run now through April 3 at the Academy of Music. Ticket prices start at $25.

The Crossing

The Crossing has a busy schedule this weekend with three performances of the World premiere of “In a House Besieged” — March 25 at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, March 26 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and March 27 at St. Mark’s Church in Philadelphia

The Crossing (www.crossingchoir.org) is an American professional chamber choir based in Philadelphia. The Crossing is conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. It is committed to working with creative teams to make and record new, substantial works for choir that explore and expand ways of writing for choir, singing in choir, and listening to music for choir.

Many of its nearly 120 commissioned premieres address social, environmental, and political issues. With a commitment to recording its commissions, The Crossing has issued 19 releases and received two Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance (2018, 2019), and three Grammy nominations in as many years.

Each concert this weekend will feature the World Premiere of Chicago-based composer Stacy Garrop’s “In a House Besieged” with Organist Scott Dettra – along with Lansing McLoskey’s “The Memory of Rain” and Arvo Pärt’s “Salve Regina.”

“In a House Besieged,” which was commissioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“The Cleveland Museum of Art has a really great organ in its theater,” said Nally, during a phone interview last week. “I don’t know of another museum anywhere that has an organ.

“They decided they wanted to commission a piece for us and their organist. I realized that Stacy would be the right person to write a piece.

“She writes a lot of choral music. I’ve wanted to work with her for more than a decade and I knew this would be the right time.

“I wanted a piece about dying and memory loss. The number of elderly Americans is increasing. The title comes from the disintegration of a house, which is a metaphor for aging.”

Gallop’s “In a House Besieged” fuses the writings of American short-story writer, novelist, and essayist Lydia Davis into a unique libretto reflecting the fear and anxiety around the aging process.

“I sent Stacy a whole bunch of Lydia Davis’ essays about aging and memory loss,” said Nally. “Lydia gave us permission to use her writings, so I hose different essays and sent them to Stacy. This started three years ago,”

Davis’s texts ask the question, “We see our homes and the world around us crumble and decay with time; can we admit that our bodies and minds will do the same?”

Through her mastery of choral textures, Garrop ponders, “Is our topic a crumbling society, cognitive collapse, moral deprivation, or the devastating disintegration of our environment?”

The piece presents five stories over the course of as many movements, each highlighting various aspects of the aging process. Two additional fragments woven between these movements serve as a prologue, a series of interludes, and an epilogue.

One fragment consists of the sounds someone makes while trying to recall how to pronounce the word “woman.” The other fragment, when fully heard at the end of the piece, illustrates the rising apprehension a person experiences with the onset and progression of dementia.

“This is extremely well written,” said Nally. “It has a lot of variety. Each essay has a different feel. It’s just a great piecethat tells a great story.”

Nally commented on the program’s other two pieces – Lansing McLoskey’s “The Memory of Rain” and Arvo Pärt’s “Salve Regina.”

“Arvo Pärt was a 21st-century musician,” said Nally. “The climax of this piece is Mary looking down on us with mercy.

“We commissioned ‘The Memory of Rain’ 10 years ago. It’s a really beautiful, thought-provoking piece.”

Video link for The Crossing – https://youtu.be/RWANOYFSH-w.

The concert at St Mark’s Church on March 27 will start at 7 p.m. There will be a “Pre-concert Talk” with Nally and Garrop at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $35.

Tommy Castro and his band The Painkillers will return to this area for a show on March 30 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com). The show will be a double treat for blues fans because it also features Deanna Bogart, one of America’s top blues musicians for decades.

Deanna Bogart

With 40-plus years as a road musician, award-winning bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist, Bogart, who is Castro’s wife, has built a legion of fans for her adventurous, original, and diverse music career.

She is recognized for her show-stopping dazzling keyboard work, her soulful saxophone playing and her smoky vocals – along with her impressive songwriting skills. Bogart is also a highly respected composer, arranger and producer.

She began her career in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area with the ensemble Cowboy Jazz. After that band broke up. Bogart spent time playing with Root Boy Slim. In the early 1990s she began her solo career.

She is a four-time winner of the BMA (Blues Music Awards) “Horn Instrumentalist of the Year” award. In 2013, Bogart was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the “Pinetop Perkins Piano Player” category.

“This is our first show with Deanna,” said Castro, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Fairfield, Connecticut.

“She wasn’t able to travel for the first week and had to bail. She was sick and the doctors told her to wait. She’s better now.”

Tommy Castro & The Painkillers

Tommy Castro & The Painkillers — bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson — are doing what they do most of the year – touring.

“We had some rehearsals back home. For this tour, we play songs from the new album.  Then, I bring Deanna up for some of her songs and then we all play songs from our 30-yaer history.”

Castro is celebrating the release of his trailblazing new album, “Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Town.”

The album is a raucous, multi-song tale of a young man bitten by the blues bug. It is a striking collection of songs that tell the story in vivid lyrics and are brought to life by Castro’s patented roadhouse rock, soulful ballads and deep, greasy grooves.

“I’m always interested in new sounds and trends,” said Castro.

“With the new one – I said, ‘what am I going to do now?’ It’s a rock opera but it’s like a blues opera.

“I ran it by Bruce (Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer) and he didn’t hate it. We jumped over that hurdle.

“I still had to decide if I was biting off too much. Rock operas had songs that were very different – and a story to listen to from front-to-back. I moved on to producer Tom Hambridge and he thought it was a really good idea.”

On his website, Castro wrote, “I try to keep my music fresh by taking different approaches and writing and recording different types of songs. I want to stretch out musically, but I always want the songs to be my most authentic, to remain true to myself and my art. This time, I felt the need to do something I’ve never done before.

“With ‘A Bluesman Came To Town,’ what I have for you is a record of songs that tell a story. It’s the story of a young man from a small town. One day a guitar-playing bluesman comes to his town. From that point on, the young man’s life will never be the same. It’s based on a classic hero’s journey — the odyssey of a musician’s life.

“I brought in the big guns this time and collaborated with legendary producer Tom Hambridge. I co-wrote most of the songs with him. In telling the story, I’ve tried to touch on the many different styles of music that I love. I’m excited for you to hear it!”

Castro created his most ambitious project ever.

“It’s about a kid from rural America who saw his life laid out for him,” said Castro. “He had other dreams. A bluesman came to town, and it changed his life.

“The bluesman told the kid that he was good and that he should go out. He did and played his music – and had to deal with drugs, alcohol and women. Through the process, he finds out what’s important in life. That was the treasure.”

Over the course of his four-decade career, Castro, who is a six-time winner of the prestigious Blues Music Award-winner, has played thousands of shows to hundreds of thousands of fans.

Castro, one of San Francisco’s veteran music acts who now lives in Palm Springs, has put together a stellar band.

“I started the Painkillers a few years ago,” said Castro. “Randy (McDonald), who has been with me for over 25 years. My music isn’t so much about guitar as it is about songs. I’m probably more a singer than a guitar player. I like a good hook and I want songs that people remember.”

Video link for Tommy Castro — https://youtu.be/BmBfrPIjxdU.

Video link for Deanna Bogart — https://youtu.be/6kkt5XKD6BA.

The show on March 30 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $26 and $40.

Head south on Wednesday night and you’ll find a concert by Marc Broussard.

Head north on Thursday night and you’ll find a concert by Marc Broussard.

Marc Broussard

Broussard’s tour, which spans almost three months, brings him to the area for a show on March 30 at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331,www.thequeenwilmington.com) and March 31 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Broussard’s shows are part of a tour in support of his latest album, “A Lullaby Collection SOS III.” The album features his interpretation of a series of classics including “What a Wonderful World,” “Moon River” and “Sweet Baby James” plus two original compositions – “Gavin’s Song” and “Bedtime.”

Broussard’s first “SOS” album was “S.O.S.: Save Our Soul.” Released in 2007, it featured covers of songs by R&B greats such as Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Bill Withers and Bobby Womack. The second in the series was “S.O.S. 2: Save Our Soul: Soul on a Mission,” which was released in September 2016.

Broussard’s commitment to making the world a better place is a mantra that he has been bound to since the beginning of his career. It has always been about tying music to a mission, one reason that his latest studio album, “A Lullaby Collection SOS III,” and book, “I Love You For You,” were created to educate and inspire younger audiences.

For Broussard, who has released more than a dozen albums, entering the book world was a new experience.

“I have a friend I’ve done some work with named Kurt Zendzian,” said Broussard, during a recent phone interview from his home in Caren Cru, Louisiana. “His wife Rebekah Phillips is an illustrator — and my illustrator.

“I wanted to do something for kids – especially the children’s hospital in Baton Rouge. So, I wrote the book and Rebekah did the illustrations.”

A portion of the proceeds from sales of both the album and the book will be donated to Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Broussard’s charitable efforts extend well over a decade, beginning with his self-released album “Bootleg to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Katrina” in 2005 and his efforts to organize the Momentary Setback Fund to provide financial assistance to those displaced by both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. He’s also taken part in a USO tour to entertain troops in the Middle East. More recently, he established his SOS Foundation as a conduit to help raise money for other worthy causes, such as the United Way and Habitat for Humanity.

According to Broussard, “A lot of it has to do with the people who raised me. My parents are wonderful, human beings who encouraged us to do everything we can for people that need the help. That’s a value system that’s been with me since birth.”

Deciding which songs to use on a lullaby album was a challenge.

“It’s always difficult picking songs,” said Broussard. “The songs I gravitate to are frequently B-sides. But with this one, it was better to do hits. It was a months-long process picking songs for this album.

“When I listened to Andy Williams’ version of ‘Moon River,’ it was like Christmas Day. It was a beautiful discovery.

“We made the album at Dockside Studio which is on the Vermilion River in Maurice, Louisiana. I’ve done my last few albums there. It’s a good old-fashioned studio.

“We recorded the album live as much as possible – one take and then fix the parts that need fixing. That’s how I always like to record.”

Broussard is an artist with the gift of tapping into the vibe of classic R&B, rock and soul. He released his debut album, “Momentary Setback,” independently at age 20. His music career began a long time before that with his father Ted Broussard’s band — The Boogie Kings.

“When I was five-and-a-half, I saw the movie ‘Back to the Future’ and fell in love with the song ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ I couldn’t stop singing it,” said Broussard.

“My dad would book a vacation in February and do a show in Destin, Florida. He brought me up on stage and I sang the song — and it went great.

“After that, when the venue allowed or at festivals, my dad would let me come along. I was a roadie and I’d join him onstage. After the show, I’d sign autographs for the little girls who were waiting.

“It wasn’t until I was 20 that I started doing music professionally. Prior to that, I didn’t understand that you could do it professionally – do it as your main job. The musicians I knew before were weekend warriors who had day jobs. My dad worked in civil service for 30 years.”

Now, Broussard has been making music professionally for almost 20 years.

“A Lullaby Collection SOS III” and a show with musicians rocking out with a blend of soul, rock and Bayou music does not seem like an ideal combination.

“There are no lullabies in our live show,” said Broussard. “We’re trying to blow the roof off the stage.”

Video link for Marc Broussard – https://youtu.be/Gkd_VGhjCQw.

The show at The Queen on March 30 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on March 31 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $35.

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